Thursday, June 19, 2014

Another brutal, unforgiving world

Director David Michod made a striking debut with Animal Kingdom (2010), an uncompromising look at a family of low-level Melbourne criminals.

Now comes Michod's second movie, The Rover, a grim journey through a trashed-out world that has emerged after an economic catastrophe rendered the outback (and perhaps the rest of the globe) lawless.

With actor Robert Pattinson trying hard to put Twilight behind him and Guy Pearce doing his best to feign numbed indifference in the face of unrestrained violence, Michod's grit-laden march across the outback becomes a movie that's all dressed down with no place to go. The Rover itself can seem like an exercise in futility.

Unshaven and scuzzy looking, Pearce plays Eric, a brooding loner who sets out to capture three gun-toting felons who have stolen his car. As he travels from one arid location to the next, Eric comes across the wounded Rey (Pattinson), a dim-witted fellow who happens to be the brother of one of the men who stole the sought-after car.

Rey was left behind in whatever skirmish the trio had engaged in before taking flight.

Speaking with a southern accent that adds to the movie's hodgepodge of types (blacks, Asians and whites), Pattinson creates a character of skittish energy, a kid with traces of innocence clinging to him like the Australian dirt. Pattinson has been de-prettified for the role, complete with teeth in bad need of dentistry.

Believing that Rey can help him track the felonious trio, Eric saves the wounded man's life, and then brings him along as a guide and for some quiet scenes in which Eric parcels out a bit of background.

The movie becomes an exercise in brutal minimalism, but one that's drained of the kind of thematic vitality that would have redeemed its barren tone. It's also a little too eager to prove how awful life has become.

At one point -- for example -- Eric needlessly kills a dwarf from whom he's attempting to purchse a revolver. Oh well, what's a guy to do when someone tries to overcharge for a weapon and there's no Better Business Bureau in sight?

Michod includes some memorable touches. Most notable among them: The image of an upside down vehicle skimming across the surface of a road, as seen through the window of a bar in which the obviously worn-out Eric sits.

Part of the mystery, to the extent that there is any, has to do with why Eric would expend so much energy to retrieve his vehicle, particularly when one destination seems no different from the next.

Fashionably devoid of hope, The Rover isn't subtle about taking us into an anarchic world where decency has been forgotten, a theme that's reinforced by Antony Partos's weirdly pounding score, the aural equivalent of body blows.

Despite the talent that's on display here, The Rover becomes a been-there, done-that exercise in atmospherics that reminds us how quickly life can be reduced to a quest for brute survival.

A cogent reading of reality?

Nah, just one more plunge into the rot of one more big-screen dystopia.

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